LITTLE ROCK — In a news conference five days after a mass shooting at a Little Rock nightclub, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Thursday the creation of multi-jurisdictional investigative group to address “an escalating level of violence in Little Rock.”
Hutchinson said the group includes officials with the Little Rock Police Department, the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office, the Arkansas State Police, the state Department of Community Correction, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Arkansas. Representatives of each of those offices stood beside the governor as he made the announcement at the state Capitol.
“The looming cloud of violence harms us all, not just Little Rock,” Hutchinson said. “When you think about Little Rock, it’s our seat of government, it is a center for tourism, medical services and economic development. My focus as an economic developer is to bring people to the state of Arkansas who want to live and work here and see our incredible quality of life, and if Little Rock is not safe, then we cannot succeed in our goals as a state.”
He said the group will share intelligence, identify threats, enhance enforcement of alcoholic beverage control laws, more intensely supervise people on parole — especially those affiliated with gangs — and pursue longer sentences for violent offenders.
The more intense supervision of parolees likely will include some warrantless searches, as allowed under a state law enacted this year, Hutchinson said, adding that “this tool will be used sparingly.”
No additional money is being provided for the effort initially, according to Hutchinson, but he said that “we’re going to monitor that. I expect that it likely will be (needed) over time.”
One area where more spending may be necessary is the creation of additional jail space if the Pulaski County jail runs out of room, he said.
Hutchinson said there are no plans to supplement the Little Rock Police Department’s patrols with state troopers or any other agencies’ officers. The group wants to gather and share information about specific risks and avoid over-policing communities, he said.
He said legislators and city leaders have told him that “this is more than a crime problem” and that “it is about opportunity, it is about hope, training, education, mental-health treatment and investment in our youth.”
“I agree with all of those points, and those are things that we have worked on, we have to continue to work on. But today the urgent need is about safe streets and freedom from drive-by shootings and peace in our community,” Hutchinson said.
Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola said after the news conference the city is also working to prevent crime.
“We’ve got a whole array of … prevention, intervention programs that we fund with over $5 million worth of tax dollars,” he said. “We’ve got people out there in the streets reaching out to young people who would be inclined, perhaps, to be tempted into violence. We’re working on those issues as well.”
Stodola acknowledged that the Little Rock Police Department has a manpower shortage and said that “it’s something that we talk about every week.” Many other American cities are facing police manpower shortages and increases in violent crime as well, he said.
Early Saturday, 25 people were shot when gunfire broke out at Power Ultra Lounge in downtown Little Rock. Three other people were injured in the chaos that followed the shooting. All of the injured are expected to survive.
Little Rock Police Chief Kenton Buckner has said multiple shooters apparently were involved and that the incident grew out of a dispute between two groups. The shooting appears to be gang-related and may be related to multiple recent drive-by shootings in the city, according to Buckner.
By Thursday no suspects had been arrested in the nightclub shooting. Police have made some arrests in connection with recent drive-by shootings.
So far this year, 29 homicides have been reported in Little Rock. The city had 42 homicides in all of 2016.